There is a moment when you are lost in which you feel the panic in your gut begin to rise up against the rational voice in your head. In that moment, a hundred things can go through your mind and heart. It is a moment you have to fight to stay in control of your emotions and your imagination. It is a moment you have to work through the fear, anger, questions, and frustrations, and work toward finding your next best step.
What if the wilderness is not trees and rocks, or mountains and rivers? What if it is not an unfamiliar neighborhood or a strange city. What if it is a wilderness of another kind? The kind you can’t always see or define or wrap your mind around. Are the feelings the same? What can we learn from a wilderness we cannot name? When I look at our world today, I wonder if we, as a society, aren't a bit lost and trying to find our way. I wonder if the last two years haven't thrown us off course and into a kind of personal, social, cultural, or even global wilderness. Professionals agree that the last two years only exacerbated underlying issues in our society and our world. Many believe the pandemic shook an already faulty foundation exposing long-hidden cracks and weak spots within systems of government, healthcare, education, and religious institutions. Emotions have been raw and all over the map. Politics heated. Conflict elevated. And even on local levels and in the homes of our neighbors, stress has been heightened, finances stretched even farther than before, and all the struggle, neglect, abuse, and tension that comes with such circumstances has only increased. From within this wilderness, all of us, at one level or another, have felt the fall out and results of change, fatigue, controversy, conflict, transition, frustration, and anger.
It is safe to say that many people today feel lost. And if they don’t feel lost, they feel our government or our country, in general, is lost. And if they don’t feel our government or our country is lost, they feel like something has been lost; something they might not be able to name or define or even recognize but something they know is gone.
The story found in Exodus 16 illustrates the powerful presence of God in the wilderness with God’s people. It reveals the faithfulness of God in times of trial and tribulation as well as God’s abundance when all we see is scarcity and God’s provision when all we feel is empty.
The thing about this wilderness experience and every wilderness experience the people of God encountered, then and now is that a wilderness experience is a time of transition - a time of existing in between something and something else. The Isrealites were between a life of bondage and a life of freedom. Between despair and hope. Between what was known and what was unknown. Between a secure existence even though it was slave labor and persecution at the hand of Pharoah, and an apparent insecure existence at the hand of God. They were between doubt and trust. Fear and courage. There is but one thing the people of God had to do and they simply could not do it. Trust. TRUST. The people of God, then and now, are faced with the question and task of whether or not they would trust God in the midst of their wilderness; in the midst of the struggle and discomfort that comes with navigating the in between.
This day (and every day) demands that those who follow Jesus trust him; trust God. The question to ask is not what are we doing or what’s going to happen? It is not where do we go from here? Or how long is it going to take? The question to ask and keep asking is, “What is God up to and how are we a part of it?” When we have the courage to ask this question, we begin to let go of our plans and assumptions and become more aware of what God is revealing to us in the midst. When we find the discipline to ask this question, we learn to surrender our expectations and demands and look for what God is bringing about in our midst. When we have the endurance to ask the question “what is God up to and how are we a part of it” we begin to see the wilderness as an opportunity, not as punishment, failure, or separation from God. Our eyes are more open to see God’s presence and restoration in action. To see God’s healing unfold. To see God’s provision, promise, and our potential in God come alive.
Whether it is the wilderness of self, faith, pain, new beginnings, grief, change, divorce, addiction, mental health or any number of other moments of life, the question remains, “what is God up to and how are we a part of it?”
In Exodus 16:1-7t, God provided the mana, the bread, in the wilderness but the people had a responsibility and instructions to pick it up - to accept it, to use it, to allow it to sustain them. To trust what they were given and that it was enough. God provided quail but the people had a responsibility and instructions to prepare and cook it, to use it for good and not abuse it or overuse it, but to trust what they were given and that it was adequate.
People of God, hear the good news: when we are lost in the wilderness God provides. When we are lost in the chaos of our world, God sustains. When we are just plain lost, God knows right where we are.
Will You trust such good news? May it be so.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine